GOP targets Baldwin over Wisconsin VA scandal

GOP targets Baldwin over Wisconsin VA scandal

Wisconsin's Republican Party on Wednesday leveled its first attack against Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDemocrats turn on Al Franken The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (D-Wis.), targeting her over the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center scandal in Wisconsin.

The party unveiled its digital ad campaign — the first of the 2018 midterm cycle — which criticizes Baldwin for her handling of the opioid overprescription scandal at the Tomah VA.

“Tammy Baldwin and her Democrat friends failed Wisconsin veterans,” reads the ad, which will run on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. “She’d rather protect the Washington status quo.”

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Baldwin came under fire when reports emerged in 2015 that her office received an inspection report about the VA, but that her office waited to call for an investigation months after. A former Tomah VA employee reportedly contacted by email to address the situation when he found out she had a copy of the report and hadn’t taken action.

Baldwin conceded that her office could have done more, and she fired one of her top staffers. The ex-staffer filed an ethics complaint against Baldwin and accused her of a political coverup. The complaints over the ouster and Baldwin’s handling of the scandal were later dropped by a Senate ethics panels.

The Tomah VA scandal was a hot button issue in the 2016 Wisconsin Senate race. Both sides of the aisle accused Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (R-Wis.) and his opponent, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D), of mishandling and ignoring the situation. Johnson ultimately beat Feingold in what many considered an upset.

“Senator Baldwin can try to avoid accountability all she wants, but the evidence of her cover-up continues to mount and Wisconsinites have made clear they’re fed up with liberal Washington insiders who have been part of the problem for decades,” said Wisconsin GOP spokesman Alec Zimmerman.

Baldwin's campaign pushed back on the GOP's accusations, noting that the Senate ethics panel dismissed the three complaints against the senator "because they lacked merit and were not grounded in the truth."

"Now, partisan special interests are using this veteran's tragic death for political gain," said Baldwin spokesman Scott Spector. "No matter the attack, Senator Baldwin will continue to fight to bring reforms that ensure our Wisconsin veterans receive the timely and high-quality care they have earned.”

Baldwin is a top Republican target. She won her first race in 2012 by just more than 5 percentage points, and she's running in a state that backed President Trump in November, by less than 1 point, after it hadn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1984.

Rep. Sean DuffySean Patrick DuffyThe Republican tax bill will cut thousands of Puerto Rico jobs Rep. Hensarling will push deregulation until retirement GOP lawmaker: Trump-Tillerson tensions are part of the president's 'strategy' MORE (R-Wis.), who was considered a top contender for the race, recently announced he would seek reelection to his House seat and so far, no declared challengers have materialized.

Possible GOP candidates include businessman Eric Hovde, who unsuccessfully ran in the GOP primary for Senate in 2012, businessman and Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson, state Sen. Leah Vukmir and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Updated at 11:35 a.m.